Community, Season 4

Show’s So Heavy.
Talking television.
March 11 2013 12:45 PM

Community, Season 4

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Community’s so heavy.

Community5jeffdean
Jeff and the Dean end their Thanksgiving on a happier note.

Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Jeff’s long overdue (and presumably last) encounter with his estranged father, William, proved to be rather sobering in last week’s Community. With the exception of the occasional truly comical moment (Britta to Jeff and William: “You two are probably feeling the impulse to sleep with each other right now, and hey—that’s normal”) this was the first episode this season that—for half of it, at least—wasn’t trying to garner lots of laughs. And as far as Jeff’s story is concerned, that worked. (The counternarrative regarding Thanksgiving with Shirley’s in-laws was meant more or less as an antidote to the seriousness of Jeff’s trip to see his father, with a half-baked Shawshank Redemption/Prison Break plot that failed to work as well as past cultural references. And yet even that storyline ended on a slightly introspective note.)

The show’s rare handling of the other characters’ family members has generally tended toward the silly (Troy’s crotchety Nana, who’s always telling her grown grandchild to “get me a switch” so she can spank him with it) or the satirical (Pierce’s hateful Archie Bunker-like father, who mercifully dies of a heart attack). “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” was notably heavier than any other episode we’ve seen before. But the show’s humor wasn’t necessarily lost; it was just more acidic than playful. (Says Jeff to his father: “I like your hair. The presence of it, I mean.”) Without the humor, the emotional moments provided by William’s unsentimental interaction with both of his sons might have been completely daunting. In dealing with Jeff’s emotional issues head on, Community needed such weightier comedy.

Often we laugh at Community because we know about these characters’ painful pasts—Annie’s prior Adderall addiction was brought on by pressure to overachieve in high school, Shirley was once an alcoholic and was cheated on by her husband. Such difficult issues have been confronted in humorous ways, and Jeff’s past is treated no differently. There have been themed episodes filmed to resemble an episode of Law & Order or a Ken Burns documentary, so was it refreshing to see the writers take a stab at writing an episode with a sense of humor that aligns with the breaking down of Jeff’s guarded emotional walls. Should Community continue down this somberly existential path for the rest of its short season? Of course not—as a whole, that’s not the nature of the show. But in order for Jeff to escape from the prison of his own past, as his other friends have done—he had to do so in his own way. 

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Books
Sept. 17 2014 10:36 AM MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel Recounts Telling Her Mother About Her Best-Selling Memoir MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel recounts telling her mother about her best-selling memoir.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 17 2014 11:06 AM Inside the Exclusive World of Members-Only Clubs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 11:14 AM How Does That Geometry Problem Make You Feel? Computer tutors that can read students’ emotions.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.